Witten Booth Russ, surgeon and public health advocate, was born in Kingston, Louisiana, on September 18, 1874, the oldest of seven children of Sempronius and Ella (Craig) Russ. His family moved to San Antonio in 1890. He was privately tutored, attended San Antonio Academy (1890–92) and the University of Texas (1892–94), and received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1898. He did two years of postgraduate work and served for a year as college physician of Girard College in Philadelphia. Russ began medical practice in San Antonio in 1901 as a general practitioner. He later limited his practice to surgery. In 1902 he was one of the organizers of the Physicians and Surgeons Hospital, now part of Baptist Memorial Hospital. For many years he lectured on surgery at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. He was also chief of surgery at Robert B. Green Memorial Hospital in San Antonio for some years.
Russ was associate editor of the Texas Medical Journal in the early 1900s. Between 1901 and 1903 he was one of the leaders of the movement to strengthen the affiliation between the state medical association and the American Medical Association. In 1909 he was elected president of the Texas Medical Association, the youngest man to hold the office at that time. He was also president of the Texas Surgical Society (1931), a founding member and second president of the Bexar County Medical Society (1904), a founding member of the Southwestern Surgical Congress, a member of the American Medical Association and the Southern Surgical Society, a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and one of the Founders Group of the American Board of Surgery. His interest in public health and safety led him to work toward passage of a Medical Practice Act, a tuberculosis sanatorium law, an anatomical law, and the state Pure Food and Drug Act, as well as the law establishing the State Board of Medical Examiners. He was a member of the State Board of Health for some years, president of the San Antonio Board of Health, and a member of the first Community Chest board of directors in San Antonio.
During World War I Russ was a major in the Army Medical Reserve Corps and later went on active duty. During World War II he served as senior surgeon with the United States Public Health Service. In 1952 he published a collection of essays, letters, and speeches called A Doctor Looks at Life. The book was reissued in 1961. He also contributed numerous articles to medical journals. Russ married Jean McGrath in 1900. They had three children. He continued to practice until his death at Baptist Memorial Hospital on November 16, 1964. He was survived by a granddaughter and a grandson. In 1969 the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio established a chair in surgery in honor of Russ.